Thursday, 21 March 2013


Sunday sees the start of Prowein in Düsseldorf. It's perhaps the biggest and most important annual wine trade fairs in the world, and we always exhibit Zaleo there. This year, however, I won't just be showing my new vintages - Tasting Notes will also be accompanying me.

The wine trade might entail buying and selling stuff just like milk, houses or furniture, but in this case most of the people involved also actually enjoy and even love the liquid that enables them to make a living. What's more, many of my importers and distributors are very well read in their respective languages. Having already had fun with Tasting Notes in the U.K. wine world, I'm now really looking forward to seeing how it goes down with readers who speak (excellent) English as a second language. The feedback from the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Germany, etc, etc, will be intriguing.

Once the fair closes, we'll definitely aim to have a few glasses of Düsseldorf's famous Old Ale. Following all that serious wine, a beer goes down wonderfully and cleanses the palate, just like a trashy novel after intense poetry!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Telegraph on Ian Hamilton

Thanks are due to Richie McCaffery for posting a link on Facebook to the Telegraph's so-called review of Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems, which has just been issued in paperback. It's an exceptional book, as the reviewer thankfully manages to mention in passing among the countless references to Hamilton's undoubted sexual exploits, boozing and mischief-making. The feature is a potted biography, not a critical analysis of poetry.

Hamilton's verse is outstanding. What's more, it's more than capable of engaging with readers who are unaccustomed to picking up a book of poems. This Telegraph article, however, has very little chance of encouraging anyone to do so. Instead, the piece yet again decides to focus on salacious details just like in the case of Plath, Hughes and even Larkin. Caricatures abound.

Forget the Telegraph's sensationalism. Get hold of a copy of Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems. Read it. Allow yourself to be moved.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Ink, Sweat and Tears features Tasting Notes

Over at Ink, Sweat and Tears, Helen Ivory is kindly featuring Tasting Notes today. You can read my poem Food Match, which is taken from the pamphlet, by following the link here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

What's in a name?

Spanish is an extremely vivid language in its use of names for places and families. For example, one of my recent opponents in the local tennis league here in Almendralejo is called Antonio Matamoros (Antonio the moorkiller). Somehow, I don't think he''ll feel too comfortable if he ever has to book in to an hotel in Marrakesh.

As for places, the drive from here down to Seville first crosses a river/steam called El Arroyo Matasanos (the healthy-person killer). Its water must once have been poisonous. Meanwhile, a few miles further on is La Cuesta de la Media Fanega, a huge hill that I featured in a poem (first published in The Frogmore Papers) a few years ago as follows:

After the Airport

Driving home, this winter morning
tracks my route with a searchlight sun.
Past holm oaks I reach La Cuesta
de la Media Fanega
- otherwise Half-A-Bushel Hill -
change down, memorise number plates,
breathe in lorry fumes. Locals chose
the name because of what a mule
devoured while getting over it.
I make the top at last, still lost
for what might get me over you.

These days, it's just a decent drop of scenery from the new motorway, but my battered, ancient Peugeot 309 really struggled up that old road!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Too much of a good thing?

In his recent provocative article for Poetry magazine (see here), Joshua Mehigan remarks on the different visions that insiders and outsiders might have of the poetry world. He ends his feature as follows:

"In the end, poetry looks radical only to the outside world, which ignores it, while from inside it looks static. Poets got out of these situations before by doing something new, but novelty is superfluous now. There is no way to get into the game without upping the ante, and there is no way out without bluffing or folding or everyone agreeing on a new game. If you’ve been a poet for a while you might not see how bizarre it all seems, and how monotonous, but if you shake your head and look again as a human being, you might."

There are two fundamental issues at stake here. One involves the old battle lines drawn up between different poetic schools, a tired set of false divides and postures that lead nowhere near the core of poetry. However, Mehigan is also raising a second key point that does very much interest me... that so many poets seem to view teaching creative writing as an ideal job, often after having taken a doctorate in the same subject, just how easy is it to lose perspective? When most of your waking hours are taken up by lecturing, workshopping or marking poetry, what undiscovered, unexpected spark is left for personal poetic renewal? When most of your daily conversations revolve around the poetic world and its codes, how difficult is it to keep remembering how verse might seem to someone from outside that reduced world? How does poetry change when it's inspired mainly by other poetry?

In this sense, I can only speak for myself. My verse builds over a lengthy period. This often involves unconscious processes. In other words, I often don't realise my mind has been worrying away at a poem until it pops out. If I were thinking about poetry during my working day, those processes would be destroyed. I need totally unrelated activity most of the time in order to allow my writing to flow.

I imagine many poets would disagree with me wholeheartedly, but that's the nature of the job, if a job is what it is...